2014 has been a year of reinvention, with companies across industries transforming their business models to compete. It included news shake-ups with the spinout of Time from Time Warner and social media consolidations such as the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook.
Huge amounts of M&A in the healthcare space reached record levels – about $264 billion in 2014, roughly double that of 2013 – and the continued disruption of the technology space headlined by Hewlett-Packard’s announcement of plans to split into two.
These transactions are just a snippet of the many dynamic transformations that companies are experiencing worldwide. According to Forbes, 93% of US-based multinationals are at some stage of undergoing or preparing for transformation. Similar patterns are driving global corporate shifts.
Reinvention is a critical element of success for businesses. Those not willing to innovate and disrupt their business models, whether through new products or offerings, integration of emerging technologies, or a greater focus on digital strategy, will be left behind. Communications can be a catalyst of this transformation, leading storytelling and engagement both internally and externally as companies grow and evolve.
There is a communications imperative that underpins the potential for success. Companies must build stakeholder confidence in their new direction, linking employees, investors, media, and partners to a new vision and strategy for the company. Culture cannot be ignored, and employees need to buy into the need for change and embrace the new direction of the business. Communications has a critical seat at the table, because it is key to helping educate, engage, and inspire stakeholders. There are three essential pillars to the communications agenda:
Move ahead of market trends
Companies that embrace change and move to execute a new strategy can achieve stronger industry leadership and competitive growth, outpacing peers. But repositioning with a new vision can be a challenge. It is important to share with stakeholders the facts about market shifts and then mine for company stories to sustain the dialogue about change and build confidence in the company’s execution. Communications can build the case, focus sharply on what will propel the company forward, and provide color and voice to the narrative that connects with influencers.
Build trust and an authentic leadership voice
Change is a journey, and employees are affected most by this: following a new vision and sometimes acquiring new skillsets as the business model shifts. Cynicism and feelings of insecurity sometimes bubble below the surface. But people trust people. Company leadership can set the tone and direction for the business. The voice of company leadership needs to reach deep into the organization in an authentic way that creates a two-way dialogue and open opportunity for discussion. Matching the right messaging and content to people’s needs and interests will greatly empower confidence and buy-in.
Inspire and emotionally engage
Communications that highlights creativity and innovation can capture people’s hearts and minds by uniquely highlighting what a company brings to the market. It can be the glue that strengthens teams, attracts and keeps talent, and ultimately delivers superior performance. But a creative idea needs to be launched with the power of a marketing plan, engaging people in a way that is relevant to their lives and personal interests. It is only successful if people see themselves as part of the story and if it has meaning in their everyday activities, and if we are asking them to get involved.
In today’s changing world, communications plays a special role. It is a critical function for the C-suite. But yesterday’s PR tactics won’t deliver what is needed in a business landscape that is constantly evolving. If we are to fuel transformations and drive engagement at a myriad of touchpoints, communications also has to evolve: faster, more personal, more authentic, multi-channel, and knowledgeable.
2015 promises to be a great year for PR – but we need to be willing to disrupt ourselves!
Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn.